If it proves to be true that the decision by the Cleveland Browns to release defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson is more of an indication of their priorities, it likely provides some direction for how the team will operate in the upcoming NFL Draft. Seemingly, the Browns are leaning into the acquisition of Jadeveon Clowney and putting more investment in their edge players, using defensive tackles mostly as role players.
Attempting to sign J.J. Watt and then ultimately signing Clowney could be as simple as opportunities that presented themselves, but both players offered the Browns a couple key features that would be attractive given the defense they want to run.
First, both have ability the length and size to protect the second level from blockers. The Browns plan to play smaller and faster at the second and third level, so having a defensive line that can protect them is critical.
Additionally, both Watt and Clowney offer the ability to play up and down the line, can effectively rush from the interior. The ability to play them inside to rush gives them the ability to put more speed on the edges to attack the quarterback. Takkarist McKinley was signed with this exact function in mind.
These are characteristics that Myles Garrett offers as well, so the defensive line as a whole is stout and has length that makes them difficult to get around. And what should be a back end of the defense will showcase more safeties, improving team speed while still being able to make tackles.
On the interior, the Browns have a similar dynamic with Malik Jackson. Jackson is a three-technique defensive tackle, but he can play a big end to give them a heavy run stopping front. He offers both size and length. Sheldon Richardson could do that as well, but the difference in price tag is almost $9 million, which is why the Browns opted to make the decision to release Richardson after they secured Clowney.
Right now, the Browns have three players that can offer them that inside outside versatility with Garrett, Clowney and Jackson. And even though Garrett can do it, he might do it the least simply because he's such a dominant player on the edge. The Browns also have limited options on the edge, at least for the moment.
Joe Jackson, who was on the roster all of last year, but didn't play much, could also potentially fit into this mold, offering possible versatility. When the Browns show up for camp, it will be interesting to see how Jackson looks. He came out of college at 6'4 1/4" 275 pounds.
Clowney and Malik Jackson are only on one-year deals as well, so if the Browns want to continue with this approach to defense, it encourages them to draft another one of these type of players, likely earlier than later.
They could also go with another pure speed threat off the edge along the lines of McKinley, who is also on a one-year deal, which would mean adding two edge rushers overall. The team did sign Porter Gustin on a tender, but if they find someone they love in the draft, they could opt to release him.
So with that in mind, here are five of the options that stand out as having the inside outside versatility the Browns could be searching for in the NFL Draft.
Kwity Paye, DE Michigan
Age: 22 (Born November 19, 1998)
Height: 6'2 1/2"
Weight: 261 lbs
Arm Length: 33"
40-Yard Dash: 4.57
Broad Jump: 9'10"
Bench Press: 36 reps
Production: 26 solo tackles (5.5 percent), 12.5 tackles for loss (16 percent), 8 sacks (18 percent) in 2019
Perhaps the Browns were as disappointed as I was that Paye lost weight to test and make it clear he's a defensive end. Paye played up and down the line for Michigan when he was up around 280 pounds.
Paye did not test agility at his Pro Day, but he has shown exceptional agility in the past in testing. Lacks ideal length, but his athleticism and strength may help to make up for it.
Christian Barmore, DT Alabama
Age: 21 (Born July 28th, 1999)
Height: 6'4 1/8"
Weight: 310 lbs
Arm Length: 33 5/8"
40-Yard Dash: 4.98
Production: 22 solo tackles (4.4 percent), 9.5 tackles for loss (11.7 percent), 8 sacks (22.8 percent) in 2020
I'm not a huge Barmore fan as there are holes in his production, holes in his athletic profile and inconsistency on tape. The Browns might see the potential for him to be an impact player and he could potentially play a big defensive end position in addition to playing the three. His ability to get after the quarterback only increases the possibility that the Browns could see him as a versatile player.
Gregory Rousseau, DE Miami (FL)
Age: 21 (Born April 5th, 2000)
Height: 6'6 5/8"
Weight: 265 lbs
Arm Length: 34 3/8"
40-Yard Dash: 4.68
Broad Jump: 9'7"
Bench Press: 21 reps
Production: 34 solo tackles (7.2 percent), 19.5 tackles for loss (18 percent), 15.5 sacks (33.6 percent) in 2019
Rousseau was one of the most dominant defensive ends in the country playing for the Hurricanes in 2019. He played both as a true end where he was excellent at the point of attack and could walk opposing blockers into the quarterback's lap. He also could knife to create pressure on the interior.
His athletic testing was pretty underwhelming, so while his potential may not be as high as it might have been, he could be a good fit and an effective player.
Payton Turner, EDGE Houston
Height: 6'5 1/2"
Weight: 268 lbs
Arm Length: 35 3/8"
Bench Press: 23 reps
Production: 17 solo tackles (5.9 percent), 10.5 tackles for loss (20.5 percent), 5 sacks (22.7 percent) in 2020
Turner has experience playing inside, outside and standing up, showcasing some remarkable quickness in the process. He has everything a team could want in terms of his build and flashes some dominant ability that can carry over to the NFL, but he must play with more consistent pad level.
Turner didn't test the 40 or his broad jump due to turf toe.
Milton Williams, DL Louisiana Tech
Age: 22 (Born March 6th, 1999)
Weight: 284 lbs
Arm Length: 31 1/2"
40-Yard Dash: 4.67
Broad Jump: 10'1"
Bench Press: 34 reps
Production: 21 solo tackles (5.3 percent), 10 tackles for loss (19.2 percent), 4.5 sacks (26.4 percent) in 2020
Outstanding profile, Williams played inside and outside for the Bulldogs. Bears some similarities to Malik Jackson, but Williams is significantly more athletic. However, Williams might get dinged by some teams for having shorter arms.
Some other prospects that don't check all the boxes the Browns seem to like but nevertheless could be utilized in this role include Carlos Basham Jr. of Wake Forest, Cameron Sample of Tulane, Janarius Robinson of Florida State and Elerson Smith of Northern Iowa. And should they decide to take an injury flyer, Dayo Odeyingbo of Vanderbilt.